How to Thicken BBQ Sauce?

Barbecue sauce is an essential condiment for grilled meats like chicken, ribs, and pulled pork. A good barbecue sauce should have a rich, thick consistency that allows it to cling and coat the meat properly. However, sometimes store-bought barbecue sauce can be disappointingly thin and watery. Even homemade barbecue sauce can turn out runnier than intended.

The good news is, there are several easy methods to thicken barbecue sauce to get that perfect sticky texture. In this article, I’ll explain the best ingredients and techniques for thickening barbecue sauce at home.

Why Thicken Barbecue Sauce?

Before jumping into the methods, let’s first go over why you may want to thicken barbecue sauce in the first place:

  • Thicker barbecue sauce adheres better to meats during grilling, broiling, or baking. The sauce clings and caramelizes instead of dripping off.
  • A thicker, richer sauce provides more flavor coating with each bite. The sauce won’t get diluted and washed away.
  • Reducing excess liquid helps balance and concentrate flavors. The savory, tangy, sweet, and spicy notes become more pronounced.
  • Thick sauce has better mouthfeel. It sticks to the meat with some pleasurable resistance instead of being thin and watery.

So if you notice your barbecue sauce is too thin or watery, take steps to thicken it up before using on your next backyard grill session. The sauce consistency will make all the difference on those succulent ribs or chicken legs!

Best Thickening Ingredients for Barbecue Sauce

There are several handy ingredients you can use to thicken barbecue sauce without dulling its flavor:


Cornstarch is one of the most popular thickeners used in cooking. It’s a pure starch powder made from corn that has remarkable thickening power.

To use cornstarch, you’ll first need to dissolve it in cold water to make a slurry. Then, whisk the slurry into the hot barbecue sauce. Cornstarch molecules absorb moisture and swell up to create thickness.

The key is adding cornstarch slurry gradually until the desired consistency is reached. You can always add a bit more if needed.

All-purpose Flour

Regular all-purpose flour contains gluten proteins that can also thicken liquid when heated. Make a roux by cooking the flour in butter or oil before whisking into the barbecue sauce.

One downside is flour may impart a subtle starchy flavor. But it works well for thickening in a pinch!

Tomato Paste or Puree

Adding tomato paste or puree is an easy way to thicken barbecue sauce naturally. Tomato products are naturally full of pectin, which acts as a thickening agent.

Tomato paste also packs a concentrated punch of flavor, enhancing the rich tomato notes in barbecue sauce.


Molasses is commonly used in barbecue sauce recipes, and for good reason. The thick, syrupy sweetener adds body and a robust flavor profile.

Stir in a spoonful or two of molasses to add earthy richness while lending thickness at the same time.

3 Methods for Thickening Barbecue Sauce

Now let’s get into the specific techniques for harnessing those thickening agents:

1. Make a Cornstarch Slurry

The cornstarch slurry method is one of the most reliable ways to thicken barbecue sauce. Here’s how:

  • In a small bowl, whisk together 1-2 tablespoons cornstarch with 2-4 tablespoons cold water until smooth.
  • Bring the barbecue sauce to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat.
  • Gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry, a little at a time.
  • Allow sauce to return to a simmer after each addition, until desired thickness is reached.

The slurry blends seamlessly into the barbecue sauce to provide smooth, even thickening. Feel free to tweak the ratio of cornstarch and water depending on how much thickening power is needed.

2. Simmer Until Reduced

For a low-effort approach, simply simmer the barbecue sauce down until it thickens naturally:

  • Pour barbecue sauce into a wide saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat.
  • Allow the sauce to simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the excess liquid evaporates.
  • Watch closely to avoid scorching as the sauce reduces down. This can take 30 minutes or longer.
  • Remove from heat once sauce reaches the ideal thick, clingy texture.

Reducing concentrates the flavors while eliminating wateriness in the process. Be patient as high heat can burn the sugars in barbecue sauce.

3. Blend in Thickening Ingredients

You can also blend thickening agents directly into the barbecue sauce:

  • Whisk a few tablespoons of tomato paste or molasses into the sauce over low heat.
  • Gradually add more until desired consistency is reached. Taste and adjust seasonings after thickening.
  • For flour, make a quick roux by cooking 2 tbsp flour and 1 tbsp butter for 2-3 minutes before blending into the sauce.
  • Puree chunks of tomatoes, onions, or other vegetables into the sauce for natural thickness.

This method infuses extra flavor while eliminating watery liquid at the same time. Feel free to combine ingredients for maximum thickening power.

Tips for Getting the Perfect Thickness

Here are some final tips when thickening barbecue sauce:

  • Check the sauce consistency by coating the back of a spoon – it should coat evenly without dripping when properly thickened.
  • The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools, so avoid over-thickening it while hot.
  • For the thickest results, let the thickened sauce chill in the fridge overnight before using.
  • When reheating thick barbecue sauce, add water or broth gradually until reaching the desired consistency again.
  • Go slowly and adjust the thickness in stages for best control. You can always make it thicker but it’s hard to reverse over-thickening.

Get Creative with Thick, Flavorful Barbecue Sauce

As you can see, it’s easy to take runny barbecue sauce and turn it into the perfect thick, finger-licking glaze for smoked meats. With the right ingredients and techniques, you can avoid watery sauce ruining your cookout.

I hope these tips help you whip up the perfect backyard barbecue sauce. Feel free to share your own tricks for thickening sauce in the comments! I’d love to hear your favorite methods.

Now get excited for grilling season and start crafting rich, crave-worthy barbecue sauces. I’ll be sure to share some mouthwatering barbecue recipes using homemade thick sauce. Smoky, sticky ribs and fall-off-the-bone chicken is just around the corner!

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